Label Art Work["I often import games from abroad and play them. On such occasions, my imagination is sometimes stimulated more as I don't understand the language.” – Fumito Ueda, creator of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. 'The Gaijin Restoration' is a weekly examination of underappreciated Eastern games that never cross to Western shores. This week's title is Tomato's wordimagesoundplay from Sony Music. It was released in 2005 for the PlayStation2 in Japan.]

Perspective/Tunnel Vision

In 1965, a man (who had dabbled in lingerie and had once cut off John Cage's tie in a music recital) shot the Pope. On video. With a new Sony Porta Pack, which legend tells he simply procured from a dock somewhere. That night he showed his saturated video and video art was born; video art was for the people. That man was Nam June Paik, who recently passed away this year, but leaving a legacy of video art that has transcended past the ruddy halls of public access and pushed through into the realms of interactivity, and thusly, video games.

no alt textTomato's wordimagesoundplay is an odd little beast. A PlayStation 2 disc, it was actually published by Sony Music, not SCEI/J, the likely suspects. It was also given a stealth launch worthy of the Saturn and has had a mysterious, small, trickling release, with an estimated print run equal to the feeding of the 5,000. Despite being a Japanese release, the game has an undeniably British twang, since the full motion video clips and the music is supploed by Underworld, who actually founded the Tomato group, a collective of sort that seems to focus on art and design, with nothing to show for the culinary arts, despite their moniker. With this little 2D metallic doughnut's odd origins out in the open, let's step into this art project.

Semicolon/Breath

no alt textTheir are four distinct modes, all with haute-couture names: Miracles and Wonders, Latlong, Phonology and Sleeping Eye. Respectively: a 3D space filled with a meandering narrator pludging (plowing while
somehow being sludge-like!) through the 3D Text; a story of London and Tokyo, shared on a screen, again with text, but now video sliding underneath keywords and the like, begging for a Found in Translation wisecrack, but generally enjoyable with a cinematic score; a human sequencer, where one choose from an octet of limeys who shout out catch phrases about fax machines or make awkward hand gestures with mouthy theramin sounds which you can then slightly manipulate and even save to your memory card; a 15 slider puzzle, with a twist, (but
still...) that unlocks linking mini-games (all tied together by some internal logic) that recall clay creatures and textual mazes reminiscent of the Atari 2600's Adventure (though dragons that look like ducks are still far more terrifying than the word snake.)

wordimagesoundplay has a lot of words, images and sound. Generous, heaping portions. Its the play that's in question. I love games and I love media art, but I find myself being overly conscious of lauding anything that combines these great two tastes into some delectable snack food. I'm a huge fan of Rez, whose work-in-progress name was Project K, a curt nod to Kandinsky, the synaesthesiac Russian painter. Toshio Iwai's Otocky and Electroplankton have a strong didactic urgency, something that I feel is an honest and earnest theme in the
budding art style. More importantly, all of those artworks acknowledge their ironic existence and allow the fact and feature of PLAY. Even Corey Arcangel's Super Mario Clouds acknowledges it in the most extreme of ways: by removing it. wordimagesoundplay is on the PlayStation 2 when it really could have all done in Flash (damnable, hateful, words, I know) and presented to the people there, instead of as a forced fetish boutique object.

Appropriate/Form

no alt textIf the media is the medium is the message is the massage, then there needs to be a liquid feel for what is 'form appropriate.' This is clearly an art piece, pressed and presented in obscurity that will blossom on eBay. At some point the game collectors, the Underworld fans and burgeoning upstarts that populate Dorkbot will try to grab hold of its meager, mod-chip supported, aura. Now, to cement myself in hypocrisy, if it was ever to come out on an artfully mastered DVD, I'd throw down. And as an equal disclaimer: I don't own wordimagesoundplay, it was a loaner.

[Ryan Stevens is the associate producer on the various Cinematech shows on G4TV, which showcases many of the games written about here. He's been known to do the collaborative blog thing at That's Plenty. Yes, he went to art school.]